SALT LAKE CITY — While the 2022 MLS season officially kicked off last week, Real Salt Lake (RSL) is set to host their home opener this afternoon against the Seattle Sounders. While a win is always the desired goal, players and coaches are simply pleased to be back and playing in front of their home supporters.
Having finished last season on the road during the playoffs, the club hasn’t played at home since Nov. 3 of 2021. Now, more than four months later, Real Salt Lake and newly appointed head coach Pablo Mastroeni are excited to return to battle with their supporters behind them.
“I think we’re really excited to be back,” Mastroeni said. “Last year we ended the season on the road and we got an opportunity to see the fans when we got back from our trip. So it’s great to celebrate with the fans tomorrow and put forth a great performance.”
While spirits were certainly high and the excitement was evident, RSL will take their home pitch without several of their key starters, including goalkeeper David Ochoa and forward Rubio Rubin. However, Mastroeni still feels confident in his squad and that guys are ready to step up and play.
“Well, you know, I think we’ve had some struggles in the preseason with numbers, with injuries, some COVID stuff and it’s been hard to really get the group together. But the mentality of the group, the leadership from Damir [Kreilach], and some of the experienced players is such that the guys that step on the field are ready to play,” Mastroeni said.
Even though the squad will be without several of the aforementioned key contributors, and newly appointed team captain Damir Kreilach is listed as questionable, his leadership efforts are already beginning to make an impact.
“I think Damir was a leader last year and more from an action perspective. You know, this year he’s been more vocal, and obviously, you guys aren’t training sessions, but I mean, he’s the one voice you hear. And so when you take the character person and lead with actions and you add voice to it, it’s I think, the Houston performance for me exemplified the amount of communication that Damir was doing on the field, and how contagious it was to the rest of the group. It’s a real important aspect to have somebody that is willing to put themselves out there, and in every aspect, Damir has been this guy so far,” Mastroeni added.
As for facing the Sounders, a team RSL upset in the first round of the playoffs last season, Mastroeni trusts his injury-bugged squad to still perform, especially with a roaring crowd behind them.
“Well, I think they have a real dynamic attack,” Mastroeni explained. “I think they’re a team that, you know, prides themselves on great individual play, along with great collective play, and they have some difference makers up front that just really need one opportunity. Their defense has been solid over the past year as well. So they’re a completely experienced team, a team that’s been together. But again, we’re at home. Love the group, love our chances.”
RSL is set to host their home opener against Seattle later this afternoon with a 4 p.m. kickoff. All fans in attendance will receive a yellow rally towel for their support of the club.